Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive May 2009 Show 0921 Electric Car

Electric Car

If there's a bit of electricity in the air, it’s from what may soon be on the road. While automakers may be hurting, there’s renewed interest in researching and developing new and more powerful electrical vehicles.
Electric Car

An electric car

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Mid-Del Technology Center

Show Dates

Show 0921: Electric Car

Air date: May 24, 2009



Rob: Depending upon who you talk to, sustainability can mean different things. For some, it’s a sustainable environment; for others, a sustainable economy; and for most us, well, just a sustainable way of life. All separate issues, but all inextricably tied together because without the one, odds are, we won’t have the others. Today, our focus is on sustainability, and we begin with a look at work to create a more sustainable energy future. Well, if there is a bit of electricity in the air, it’s from what could soon be on the road. While all the automakers may be hurting, there’s a renewed interest in researching and developing new and more powerful electrical vehicles. Car companies are showing their plans off at auto shows across the country. Toyota plans to launch an electric vehicle by 2012; Chrysler has their own model on the drawing board, while GM has big plans for an electric car, appropriately called the Volt.

And one day, Chevy Volt, a car that can go up to 40 miles before it uses any gas at all.

Craig Eppling: The beauty of the Volt is that it’s going to have an assist motor that will start up when the battery gets low and it recharges the battery so you can continue on your drive. We’re looking at someplace in the mid-$30,000 range.

Rob: Well, joining me now is our Keith Smith with more on the plug-ins that could be coming down the pike.

Keith: Rob, they believe this could be the start to changing transportation as we know it. It’s a big bet to help rev up and revive a sagging industry. Let’s take a look at what this could mean. Some leading industry experts believe that 15 years from now, up to a quarter of all new vehicles on the road in the U.S. will be electric or hydrogen powered. It’s a challenge, or as they like to say, a huge opportunity. And while we don’t have all the answers yet, electrified transportation is already alive and well in the heartland.

Keith: If you’re looking to see the future in motion, Dr. Strattan will try and take you there.

Robert Strattan: OK, shall we go for a ride?

Keith: The retired electrical engineer bought his EV used, off eBay last fall for $14,000.

Strattan: I would like a Chevrolet Volt or a plug-in hybrid, but they’re not going to be available for a couple of years, so I decided well, I kind of always wanted an electric car, maybe now is the time to buy one.

Keith: It can go about 40 miles on a charge.

Strattan: It has a top speed of 65 to 70 miles per hour, but it takes a little while to get up to that.

Keith: Which means picking and choosing before getting on an expressway.

Strattan: People that stay in town and run short errands around town, that’s what the electric vehicle is ideal for.

Keith: It’s kind of like filling up your own tank.

Strattan: Take any extension cord.

Keith: Only the vehicle goes for volts, instead of gallons. And a thousand pounds of battery power underneath the hood.

Strattan: Some of the batteries are under here, down in the bottom of the trunk; in here, there are eight more batteries.

Keith: The thing about electric cars is that they need a lot of batteries. You need a trunk full. And they’re not cheap. We’re still waiting on a major breakthrough.

David Castiaux: Good old electric power.

Keith: David Castiaux keeps a small electric fleet running at Mid Del Technology Center and is well aware of the roadblocks.

Castiaux: Folks are afraid of electric vehicles, of getting stranded somewhere. It’s not like you’ve got a filling station on every corner.

Strattan: We’ll find a solution to that, one of these days.

Keith: A breakthrough that may be closer than it appears.

Castiaux: It’s happening here in Oklahoma. We’re building electric vehicles, consider ourselves an oil state, but we build electric vehicles also.

Steven Marsh: The market found me, rather than me finding the market.

Keith: Electric vehicle mechanic Steven Marsh should know, specializing in a highly charged field.

Marsh: We’re there! We have the technology today to build a vehicle that’s very feasible. I’ve built several with old technology from the 70s.

Castiaux: They were touting the electric car back then in 1971.

Keith: In an electric sort of way, it’s going back to the future.

Back at the turn of the previous century, around 1900, electric cars were more popular than gasoline cars.

Keith: Hoping that what started in the early part of the 20th century could take a turn toward mass production in the 21st.

So you just take a reading across the batteries there, and see what you get.

Castiaux: You can compare it to microwave ovens 20 years ago, how expensive they were to have one, or even things as old as a VCR, when they first came out, I paid $500 for one.

Strattan: As we’re more concerned about environmental issues and saving energy, using our energy more efficiently and alternate fuels, well, the electric vehicle is coming back.

Keith: Creating the buzz for a final charge.

Keith: Dr. Strattan says an overnight charge on his vehicle only costs around a dollar, but every three or four years you have to replace the batteries, and that runs around $2,000. It’s the price you pay for the electrification of an automobile.

Rob: Now, Keith, I know they’re constantly working on new battery technology. But I have to ask the question, what does this mean for people that drive long distances, say, someone that lives in a rural area?

Keith: There’s ideas out there, and one is for a battery swapping program -- think of it like a gas station -- but that’s where you would swap out your batteries.

Rob: Now if we go over to battery powered vehicles, what would this mean for our nation’s electric grid?

Keith: That’s what they’re looking at right now, some of the largest companies in the U.S. And one is to do the charging at night, and it would be based on a rate whether it was peak demand during the day or at night.

Rob: All right. Interesting story; Keith. Keep us apprised.